Sunday, August 24, 2008

My Phone is Better than iPhone

Genre: Technology

While the whole world goes gaga over the Apple iPhone, raving about its oh-so-sleek looks and innovative touchscreen interface, I decided to look at the other side of the coin and voila! the cat's out of the box! When compared to my current cellphone, the "feature-rich" iPhone loses out on hordes of features. And I am not even comparing the iPhone with some top-end hi-fi cellphone (I leave that to the dozens of "compare your stuff" websites)- my reference is my own good old mid-range Sony Ericsson k550i costing around Rs.7,000 only. And yet, my phone is better than iPhone.Here's why-

Starting with the most basic bloopers- the "super-cool" iPhone's camera does not have a video recording facility (my phone, and virtually all camera cellphones have it by default) nor does it have a digital zoom feature in it's camera. Also missing is a flashlight to take pics in the dark and there is no setting to adjust White Balance, Night mode, Brightness etc (ok, not a big deal, but my k550i has ALL these features!)

All you sms freaks out there- for some strange reason best known to Mr Steve Jobs, your iPhone does not allow you to forward an SMS! Nor does it segregate your messages into Folders like Drafts, Sent Messages and Saved Messages! (Needless to say, my phone has it all) Also, it does not tell you when your sms length overflows beyond the stipulated 160 characters (my phone does!). If you think all this is too troublesome and instead decide to call up your friends, be ready for another shocker- the iPhone does not have a Search function in the Address Book! So,all those who were raving over the so-cool touchscreen interface can keep on scrolling to their heart's content till they manage to find their desired contact from your Address Book! (Needless to say, my phone and even the basic thousand-bucks cellphones have this feature!)

The iPhone which is claimed to be the "coolest iPod" does not allow you to connect a portable Bluetooth headset to listen to music without interfering wires! What's more,even though the iPhone has Bluetooth, you cannot send images or music files to other cellphones via Bluetooth! (What the heck is the Bluetooth for then?) Not just this, the iPhone does not play videos if they are in any other format except Quick Time (my good old cell plays both 3gp and mp4!)

Ok, all this is about the peripheral functions. The main function of any cellphone is making and receiving calls and the iPhone fails miserably here too- there is no Voice Dialling, no facility to keep Personalised Ringtones for different callers and in fact, you can't even keep your mp3 songs as ringtones! (My k550i has ALL these facilities and moreover I can also keep Video Ringtones and even assign different display photos for different callers, let aside personalised ringtones!). The iPhone does not allow clubbing contacts to Caller Groups and when you select Call Forward, all calls get forwarded- there is no facility like Forward when busy, Forward when unreachable etc which is a default feature existing in my current phone as well as the one I had earlier!

Then, what does the iPhone have? Hype- lots and lots of it! And looking at the fact that it is sold at $199 (around Rs 8k), I may think of forgiving the makers for not including some of the features. But wait, is it really sold at Rs 8k? Not if you are in India!

Some super-greedy guys at Airtel and Vodafone decided to act smart and make the full use of the initial hype surrounding the iPhone and priced it at an astronomical Rs. 36,000 hoping that the gadget-loving Indian junta would go mad at the prospect of possessing an iPhone and flock in droves to grab it up the very first day, whatever be the price! But as always, the consumer turned out to be smarter than the seller. The result- compared to 70,000 iPhones sold in Japan on its launch day, Airtel recorded a sale of a grand 85 pieces of iPhone on Day 1!!! Someone gotta tell those guys at Airtel/Vodafone the story of The Goose That Laid Golden Eggs!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Journey Of a Shatabdi

FOREWORD: Though it appears so at first look, this post is NOT about trains or railfanning. Non-railfans may safely go ahead and read it.

Adventure, it seems, has become synonymous with all my trips of late. What else can explain a mundane one-day trip to meet relatives in Baroda turning into a once-in-a-lifetime experience? The original plan was pretty straightforward- take the Shatabdi Express at 7am from Borivali, reach Baroda at 11am, spend four hours with my US-return sister, catch the Shatabdi Express from Baroda at 4pm and reach back home by 9pm. As simple as that. Or so it seems. Destiny, however, had different plans for me. So here we go-

As per original plan, me, Dad and Mom reach Borivali station early morning and board the Shatabdi Express at 7:00am. Amidst drizzling showers, the Loco Pilot does a clinically perfect job of hauling the Shatabdi according to its reputation, pulling into Vapi at 08:35 am, 150km in 1 hour 35 minutes flat! By this time, we had been served Tea, Biscuits, and breakfast consisting of Upma and Bread-Butter-Jam followed by a mango juice. All this nicely stuffed inside my stomach, (it's FREE food, how can you let anything of it go waste?) I was feeling sleepy just when the trouble began.

Our train was made to halt at a wayside station called Bhestan for a good 15 minutes. Maybe some technical problem, we thought. But then, we crawled upto the next station- Udhna where the train was again stopped. By this time, my friend in Baroda had sms-ed me that due to flooding at Makarpura near Baroda, rail services have been disrupted. At Udhna, dozens of suited-booted businessmen (who comprise a majority of the Shatabdi crowd) were out on the platform waiting anxiously for the signal ahead to turn green. One gentleman, around four coaches ahead, was animatedly shouting into his cellphone- "Tereko samajh me nahi aata kya b******. Idhar ruka ke rakha hai saala. Abe c*****, aa jaaunga main thode time me...". However, the crowd, except me, was in no mood to enjoy this free-show!

After a brief wait, we pulled into Surat. We were greeted with announcement- "2009 Shatabdi Express ke sabhi yaatri dhyaan de- ye gaadi agli suchna milne tak yahaan ruki rahegi." Damn! Boredof sitting indoors, almost half of the the train's 1000-odd passengers were out on the platform now. The food-stall owners, sensing a big business opportunity, started preparing huge quantities of bhajiya, khaman, toast sandwiches, vada pao and so on. I walked upto the engine and enquired with the Pilot. It turned out that flood waters were flowing above danger mark at two bridges near Baroda and as a result, till further notice, no train was allowed to go further. After an hour's wait, it was announced- "Platform Number 1 pe khadi Shatabdi Express ke sabhi yatri apna sthaan grahan kare. Ye gaadi kuch hi samay me nikalne ki taiyari me hain". It was nice on their part to give this advance warning but it turned out to be a hoax call. Fifeteen minutes later, same warning was repeated and this time we actually departed at 11:15am, after spending an hour and half at Surat.

The Loco Pilots showed a sense of urgency and speeded up the train upto the maximum limit it could and everything was going well when we were given an unscheduled halt at Miyagam Karjan Junction at 1:45pm. The kilometre stone outside read- "376". Dad remarked how my sister had come 20,000 km from the USA but we may miss meeting her by mere 20km! So near, yet so far! The passengers were now restless (and hungry) because breakfast was served five hours ago and lunch would be served only after Baroda. Most of them had now resigned to fate and were seen making the most of the unexpected delays by getting out on the platform and socialising. Some enterprising ones even went to the market outside the station and brought some hot kernels of corn to savour in the drizzling rain! Half an hour into the stop, Sayaji Nagari Express pulled into Miyagam from Baroda side and we rushed to their passengers to get a first hand report of what lies ahead for us. "There is water, water everywhere.It took us four hours to cover this 20km distance. Your actual journey will begin now", quipped one youngster, sending a wave of shock across our train!

After an hour, when it seemed that we may have to wait here for longer than expected, the catering staff of Shatabdi decided to throw the rules to the dogs and serve lunch to everyone (generally, lunch is served only to Ahmedabad bound passengers and not to Baroda ones). This brought in some reliefas everyone spent the next half hour savouring their packed lunch in the air-conditioned comfort of the coaches. Good news came at 3:15pm when we were given the green signal. But this was short-lived. At the very next station named Kashipura (this was the worst of the lot and did not even have a proper platform) we were made to wait again. The journey resumed at 03:45pm and now everyone was curious to know how grim is the flood situation ahead. Our train was put on the Up line as the Down line was appearently damaged by the floodwaters. Rules state that all doors of high-speed trains like Shatabdi should be kept closed throughout the journey but who cares! The curious passengers had opened all doors of all coaches and and occupied every inch of available space in the doorway to get a "good view"! (Ofcourse, I was one of the front-runners in this movement!)

The flood situation, it turned out, was much worse than what I had expected. Brown mucky waters all around, trees under water, people perched on rooftops of buildings partly submerged under water- scenes we normally see only on news channels were right in front of me. A certain bridge on a river called Dhadhar had been damaged by the raging floodwaters and workers were toiling to repair it as soon as possible. A goods train was made to halt on the damaged track on the bridge so that its weight can prevent the bridge from being washed away by floodwaters! This left only one track open for traffic from both sides and this is what had caused the massive pile-upof trains. Finally we reached a half-submerged Baroda at 4:45pm, after a five and half hour delay in a four hour journey! But there was no time to rest- our return tickets were booked in the same train and we needed to confirm as to what time wouldthe return train leave. The enquiry counters at Baroda were overflowing with hundreds of stranded passengers. This is when Dad decided to take the easier (though not exactly legal) way out- he approached the Station Manager directly and managed to get a cofirmation from him that the return train would arrive by around 8pm. One does not expect a person holding such a high office as The Station Manager of Vadodara Junction to answer such trivial queries but it was a kind gesture from him in time of crisis.

We finished our social nitty-gritties in the four hours we had at hand and returned to Baroda station by 8pm. Our return tickets were Waitlisted and had got confirmed only last moment, so we did not know our seat numbers. Again, we took the same route- asked the Station Manager about it and he calmly directed us to a couple of swanky touchscreens in the main foyer where one could enter the PNR number and get reservation status! Unluckily, the machine was hell bent on not giving us the required details. Thankfully, there was a dinosaur-era black-and-white computer placed the the Reservation counter for the same purpose. This one promptly gave the display- "Seats confirmed. C5-11,17,20". Announcements were made that Mumbai bound Shatabdi Express would arrive at 21:35. We went to the air-conditioned waiting room to spend the one hour at hand but it was overflowing with harried passengers so we walked back out and decided to "enjoy" the chaos on the platform. Finally, as promised, at 9:32pm, I boarded the first-ever "Overnight Shatabdi" for the return journey.

This time, my coach had LCD screens like the ones found in airplanes for our entertainment. However, there was one rider- it would show onlyone channel and that too pre-decided by the catering staff! We were subjected to half an hour of torture of an old episode of "Hum Paanch", followed by an even torturous episode of a serial called "Kitne Kool Hai Hum" (Yeah, Ekta!). Thankfully, this was followed by "Sa Re Ga Ma Pa" challenge and I decided to take a nap listening to the India's future singers belting out popular numbers (and crying for votes). After a coupleof songs, I heard "Whenever, Wherever" and I jolted out from my semi-sleep expecting to see Shakira on screen! But, it was some behenji-trying-to-be-modern imitating Shakira in pseudo Latino-American accent. Shatabdi's rules state that snacks be served as the train departs Vadodara and not showing any concern to the fact that it was 10pm now, the catering guys enthusiastically brought in plates of samosas, masala peanuts, a sweet and a mango juice for the passengers. This was followed by "evening tea" at 11pm. Finishing that off, just as we were trying to go to sleep, the catering guys barged in at 12 mindight with tomato soup and bread sticks with butter. Grudgingly, we finished off that too and like everyone else in the coach, went off to sleep. But this did not last long. As we departed from Surat at 1:15 am, the catering guy came and poked each of the sleeping passengers- "Sir, aapka dinner!"

The reaction on everyone's faces on hearing this just cannot be described in words! This was heights of abiding the rules- dinner is served at Surat every day so it must be done today also, so what if it's wellpast midnight! Ofcourse I was not hungry at this hour but seeing Paneer Mutter in the dinner tempted me a bit and I had a few bites of it, returned the plates and decided to sleep- once again. But, no! At around 1:45am, a loud screeching sound of Emergency Brakes and a heavy jerk woke everyone up with queries of "Kya hua? Kya hua?" From my numerous previous experiences, I knew our Loco Pilot had run over some animal or human. (the latter seemed unlikely- which idiot would be crossing the tracks at this unearthlyhour?) My doubt was confirmed by a catering guy who ran across the coach shouting "Aise sabko udaate rahega to Mumbai kab pahuchega?"

The matter was resolved soon and after an hour of not-so-peaceful sleep (after all, how can you sleep comfortably in a Chair Car coach?), I saw outside the window- a signboard showed "Vasai Road" and the LED clock next to it showed "02:44". This served as a wake-up call for everyone and we were finally out on a completely deserted Borivali station with the clock reading "03:06", ending what turned out to be a Once In a Century (or should I say, Shatabdi) journey!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Struggle for The First Job of My Life

7:30 am: I start my day. Not willing to get crushed in the peak hour office crowd early in the day, I decide to take a detour via Borivali to reach Dadar.

9:00am: After a comfortable train journey, I reach college. Today’s is the fourth company coming for Campus Placement and the atmosphere is similar to the earlier three occasions- the entire VJTronix class is present, decked up in formals, looking like senior executives. SS and AS, who had not registered themselves for this company, now decide to sit for it. But immediately they are shown the door in no uncertain terms by the Placement Officer, Mr G. The class watches in stunned silence.

9:30 am: Two representatives from Wipro VLSI arrive for the Pre-Placement talk (PPT). One is a young lady of around 25 and another is a middle-aged man looking like an overworked scientist. A brief slideshow showcasing the achievements of the company is followed by a video titled Life@Work, which is received with a huge round of applause. A few question-answers follow. An unexpected surprise pops up- the company is asking for a 15-month bond! Nobody knew about this earlier. A few minutes later, a wave of surprise sweeps across the room once again when we are informed that the company provides accommodation for seven days only! Yeah, you heard that right-only one week!

11:00 am: The two company representatives try to arrange the students on one-student-per-bench basis for the written test but the rowdy crowds that we are, a few students always end up sharing the bench with their friends! Finally, a third representative of the company- a beautiful young girl, pitches in and after 15 minutes of harsh talk, finally manage to get the entire class in order!

11:15 am: Papers are distributed for the Aptitude Test. We are pleasantly surprised to see CAT-style OMR sheets being distributed. Heights of professionalism! The instructions to fill the OMR sheet and other warnings take up a considerable time. Before the test can actually start, another surprise is thrown at us- all those who sit for Wipro VLSI today shall not be allowed to sit for Wipro Infotech next week, even if they don’t get selected today! An option is given to the students to leave at this moment if they wish to sit next week and PB, DA, SG and a few others take up this opportunity and walk out.

11:30 am: The question papers for the Aptitude Test are finally distributed. We are to solve 50 questions in 60 minutes- 20 on Verbal, 20 on Quant and 10 Technical. The paper has no negative marking but has sectional cutoffs. The questions in Technical section leave me flabbergasted as they ask things about Unix and Data Structures! Other sections are challenging but workable.

12:30 pm: Aptitude Test ends and we are informed that the results would be out in an hour. So, we settle down to have lunch in the TPO itself in our usual fashion- with half the guys climbing onto the desks to form a complete circle.

01:00 pm: Somebody complains about the students “misbehaving” in the TPO and Mr.G comes around to have a look. Unfortunately, at this very moment, I am the only one sitting on the desk and as a result I am made the ‘bakra’. Mr. G takes away my I-card and threatens to report to the Director about my “misbehavior”. By this time, Aptitude Test results are out and it turns out that 50 people have been short-listed for interviews. Interviews are to begin in half an hour and I am second on the list. A note at the bottom of the results page states “Carry your College ID with you for the interview”. Shit! Now I am in trouble! I go to Mr. G and ask for my I-card but he is in no mood to relent. He even threatens me that he “will ensure that your placements are affected” as according to him, there is no place for such misbehaving students at VJTI. Yeah, right- after all there isn’t a more grave crime in the world than sitting on a desk na! Depressed and angry, I go to the washroom to get ready for interview and ascribe quite a few chosen profanities to Mr.G.

01:15 pm: I write a Letter of Apology and hand it over to Mr. G who has mellowed down by now. However one of our SSC-fail type “professors” who is sitting in Mr. G’s cabin suggests “Students like this should be permanently black-listed”. Yeah right, you ass****. Did you even bloody sit through one interview process in all your life to know what “black-listing” means? I get back my I-card and return to TPO. This entire nonsense wastes a valuable half hour of my time which I had decided to devote to preparing for the Tech Interview.

01:30 pm: Interviews begin. Three students are called randomly for technical interview.

02:00pm: First student returns from technical interview. So, it’s time to reveal the suspense. He is made to spit out all the questions asked during his interview. Based on this info, the others get busy with last minute studying. After a couple of interviews are over- a trend is seen- some candidates are handed over a bio-data at the end of the interview while some are not.

02:30pm: The suspense of the bio-data is clear by now- only those who have been given the bio-data can proceed for the HR interview. The others wait wondering what next…

03:30pm: My name is called out for technical interview. I am taken to a room where that middle-aged scientist-uncle is sitting alone. The first question thrown at me has me perplexed- “You stay in Malad, right? So, tell me which bus goes directly from Matunga to Malad?” What kind of “technical” question is this? A couple of casual questions later, he asks me about my Microcontroller Project and interrogates for about 25 minutes on it. This is followed by random questions on topics as diverse as Instrumentation Amplifiers, Clippers and Clampers, 8085 and 8086 Microprocessors etc. Finally.45 minutes into the interview, he decides its enough and hands over the bio-data to me.

04:15pm: I return to the class- happy to get the coveted bio-data- the supposed indication of clearing the technical interview. As expected, I am bombarded with “What were you asked” type questions. Answering them, I sit back to fill in the new bio-data. By this time, the class has found some humour in the tense environment and the class is now being divided into three categories- the “Confirmed Tickets” (those who got bio-data), the “RAC” (those who gave interview but were not given bio-data) and “Waitlisted” (those who are yet to give their interviews). Each student coming back from the interview with the bio-data now began to shout it out “Confirmed ticket mila!”

05:00pm: I finish filling up the bio-data and go for the HR interview. The lady who gave the PPT was to interview me. Sitting next to her is a beautiful young girl of around 25- fair, cute looking, green eyes and golden hair! I spend the first minute admiring her. (Yeah! Guys will be guys!). The interviewer looks at my bio-data and stops at the “Hobbies” column. I have purposely written in-depth about my railfanning craze to divert the talk into my favourite topic. And bingo! She falls for it! First question shot at me- “So, what is this Indian Railways Fan Club and what do you guys do?” From here, it is my territory! For the next ten minutes, I talk at length about IRFCA and she sits quiet, listening in excitement. I show her the Times Of India article featuring me. She looks at it and asks, “What are you guys photographing? A TRAIN?”. “Yes, ma’am.” Hearing this, she pokes the beautiful babe who was busy noting my replies on her laptop and exclaims- “Look at this!” and both started giggling loudly. After this, she just asks one question- “Don’t you want to pursue a full time M.S./M.B.A.?" Not the one to get tricked, I reply cunningly- “You said in the PPT that Wipro will take care of my further studies. I am looking forward to that!” She decides it’s enough and allows me to leave.

06:00pm: Tired and hungry, I walk down to grab some snacks and a drink and return hurriedly. By now the number of “Confirmed tickets” have increased quite a lot and around half a dozen “RACs” are waiting, unsure about the future turn of events.

08:00pm: The technical interviews and HR interviews are going on slowly and boredom creeps in big time. Nobody is studying anymore. Everyone just wants it to end. We count the number of “Confirmed Tickets” and the score is 22, and bound to increase! This sets in a feeling of panic- it may happen that quite a few with “Confirmed Tickets” would miss the train! After lengthy deliberations, we settle at a conclusion that the count would be probably cut into half finally.

08:30pm: The last guy emerging out of the Technical Interview is Mr AR. He takes an eternity to fill the bio-data and go for HR Interview. Once inside, again he takes ages to emerge out. We all finished our HR Interviews in 10 minutes each and this guy is inside for 30 minutes! Something is fishy!

09:00pm: The HR ladies come to the class and drop a bombshell- “We have selected EIGHT candidates!” A stunned silence fills the class. After the 12 hour wait, 16 out of the 24 people will have to go home empty-handed! She starts announcing the names one by one and hands over a red cap to the selected candidate. Six names are done, I am not on the list. She speaks out the seventh name and voila! It’s me! The long wait pays off! I collect my red cap, thank the interviewers, accept congratulatory handshakes from friends and proudly walk out of the college- having secured The First Job of My Life!
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